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Scarsdale Forum Committee Releases Report on 2014 and 2016 Property Tax Revaluations

reportFollowing years of controversy in Scarsdale about two property tax revaluations in 2014 and 2016, a committee of the Scarsdale Forum studied both revaluations, examined the deficiencies of each one and drew some conclusions about lessons learned for future revaluations.

The report notes that Scarsdale residents may have given the revaluations more scrutiny than homeowners in other municipalities. The Village’s highly educated group of data analysts, financiers and real estate professionals were able to critique the input data, processes and the mathematical models used for both revaluations and found many flaws in the inexact practice of assessing approximately 5,900 diverse properties.

The report notes, “It may well be the case that Scarsdale standards and expectations with respect to property revaluations are higher than ordinary industry standards. After all, Scarsdale standards for schools, police and other services are also higher than ordinary. In the context of revaluations, it may well be that the standards set forth here are higher than any potential vendors would want to bid on and commit to. Therefore, although this report articulates the necessary high standards, it does acknowledge that in practice it may be necessary to compromise for something less.”

The 60-page report will serve to document what happened and suggest improvements if, and when, Scarsdale embarks on its next revaluation.

Here are comments from Robert Berg and Steve Pass who co-chaired the Assessment revaluation Committee of the Scarsdale Forum:

Bob Berg: This is a very important report that aims to teach people best practices in conducting a town wide revaluation in Scarsdale and how to avoid certain pitfalls encountered in both the Tyler and Ryan revaluations. Michael Levine was the primary author of this extraordinary report and he has done a brilliant job of crafting a highly readable report about an arcane and technical subject. This report is mandatory reading for everyone in Scarsdale Village government who has or will have anything to do with property valuation and assessment as well as any vendor or consultant who may seek work for the Village going forward. We are delighted that so many Committee members participated in this project and signed the report.

Steve Pass: After several months of work, our committee is proud to present a report with recommendations that the vast majority of members agree will improve and help set a vendor's expectations for any future revaluation. While the report only addresses deficiencies of the two vendors' work in Scarsdale, based on my own research looking at revaluations elsewhere, many of these deficiencies are not unique to Scarsdale or the two vendors we used. Thus, this report and its recommendations should be useful to any municipality considering a revaluation.

Here is a press release from the Forum about the report:

Scarsdale Forum Examines Technical Aspects of Recent Scarsdale Revaluations and Makes Recommendations to Avoid Future Problems

The Scarsdale Forum Assessment Revaluation Committee has released a report on the 2014 and 2016 revaluations.

The report recognizes that there were too many instances in both revaluations where the results were not adequately explained and, worse, where the processes and the results could credibly and logically be considered unfair. However, the premise and focus of the report is that, with the benefit of hindsight, Scarsdale can learn from these revaluations to prevent a repeat of the problems. The goal is to put future Scarsdale leadership in a better position to supervise/manage a revaluation and to stand behind it in an informed and convincing way.

The committee recognizes that learning these lessons and applying them requires an understanding of the technical and sometimes arcane details of revaluations and of assessment processes generally. Therefore, the report is designed to explain this material to residents regardless of their expertise in these areas. It uses these explanations to demonstrate how specific aspects of both revaluations had actual unfair impacts and created additional perceptions of unfairness. The report makes recommendations to prevent, or at least minimize, these deficiencies in the future.

The report specifically addresses six topical areas that comprise the revaluation process and makes recommendations with respect to each.

Inventory Data
Valuation Modeling and Methodology
Land Valuation
Sales Data

The report includes many appendices that support the committee’s observations and add to the report’s value as a reference source. These include assessment industry literature, useful New York State materials, documentation from both revaluations, and some technical papers and spreadsheets. There is also an appendix that restates all the recommendations.

The committee believes the report will be a valuable educational resource, should any revaluations be considered in the near- to mid-future. While not every member of the public may wish to study it, the report has been developed in the belief that there will be those who do want to learn from it and use it as a guide. The Scarsdale Forum strongly encourages all leaders of the Scarsdale community to be familiar with its content and recommendations.

The committee members recognize that they are not experts in this field and are not declaring that any future revaluation must conform in all respects to this report. Rather, the committee believes that this report establishes expectations in terms of depth and detail of analysis. In any future revaluation, the assessor and any vendor should be expected to engage the public and address public concerns at this level.

This report takes no position on the current (July 2018) state of the Scarsdale assessment or on the timing of future revaluations. This is not to say that these are unimportant topics. Rather, these are potentially controversial topics and they are likely to require more analysis.

A copy of the report is available here.

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